South Florida has had its share of rush-hour drama — a baby needing CPR, a man threatening to jump off an overpass and a man shooting several people on Florida’s Turnpike.
Monday’s commute was another one for the books. Hundreds of people riding dirt bikes and ATVs sped across Miami-Dade and Broward’s major roadways — I-95, US 441, Northwest Seventh Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard — disrupting rush-hour traffic.
Twitter users were likening the scene to DMX’s 1998 rap video Ruff Ryders’ Anthem. Some riders popped wheelies and were driving erratically, whizzing past cars.
Joseph Gebara was heading north on US 441 at about 5:15 p.m when “like everyone else I heard a rumbling and there went at least 60-70 bikes in an out of traffic, popping wheelies.”
“It caught me off guard,” he said. “I didn't feel like I was in danger but I certainly felt like I was about to watch a disaster happen.”
Police agencies were left baffled — unsure why the bikers were out there. The Florida Highway Patrol had tried to stop them but soon realized they would jeopardize the safety of other drivers.
By Tuesday morning, however, the FHP had made three arrests and reported one minor crash on Florida's Turnpike in connection with the riders flooding South Florida's streets. No one was injured in the accident.
“We’re not going to put their lives as well as other motorists lives in danger by chasing these kids on dirt bikes and ATVs,” said Joe Sanchez, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol.
Sanchez decried their actions.
“They basically have no respect for other motorists,” he said. “But welcome to Miami.”
Miami police spokeswoman Frederica Burden said “all of a sudden they appeared. We have no idea who they are, we have no idea where all of these people came from, we don’t know where it initiated from.”
Sanchez said reports began coming about the ragtag group just after the Martin Luther King Jr. parade Monday morning that ran along Northwest 54th Street in Miami.
Milo Alexander, a rider from Atlanta, told the Miami Herald that a band of riders converged in South Florida from across the East Coast, including New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
He said the ride, which began to wind down at about 8 p.m. Monday, was the bikers’ way of honoring King on the holiday dedicated to the civil rights leader.
“These bikes bring a bond,’’ he said. “It's something that brings us all together. It doesn't matter who you are.’’
On social media, the group uses hashtags #BikesUpGunsDown and #BikeLife to stay in touch. Another hashtag, #JusticeForRell, references the unsolved murder of a popular dirt biker Kyrell "Dirt Bike Rell" Tyler of Philadelphia.
“We chose that one because a lot of people look at us and think we're violent people because we're riding kind of rough on the street,” he said. “But this is nonviolent between all of us. That's our new movement, just as MLK marched in the 1960s.”
Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson disagreed.
“This manner of protest is contrary to everything Martin Luther King stood for," he said.
Baltimore filmmaker Kerry Jones, who goes by “Shadyflic” online, said she’s been documenting bike culture for years. She said bike leaders get together to plan rides in different cities every couple months. Atlanta played host to a similar stunt in August.
Jones said leaders from cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York had been planning this ride for months through social media networks, communicating via Instagram with members of Miami Bikelife, a loosely organized local collective. Some even chipped in to rent an 18-wheeler to haul their bikes south.
They chose South Florida “to show Miami love,” Jones said and because the Magic City had never hosted a ride like this before. The long weekend and warm weather also lured riders south.
“Miami’s become a part of the bike life,” she said. “They are making it known on Instagram they have some serious riders.”
In the late afternoon, television helicopters captured images of several riders passing through Miami streets toward downtown — some riding on sidewalks, into oncoming traffic and around cars.
Burden said Miami police were not pursuing the drivers due to the sheer number of riders and for safety concerns for the other drivers on the road.
“The officer is going to try to stop them, but if they don’t stop they are not going to pursue,” she said.
Motorists who saw the bikers snapped photos, shot videos and took to social media to warn other drivers to be careful. People have also reported seeing groups of bikers through the weekend, but it was not clear whether the rides were tied to Monday’s mass gathering.
By 7 p.m. reports were still coming in about riders, but Sanchez said those numbers dwindled. He noted that police were also concerned because many of the bikes by law cannot be driven on highways and some of them didn’t have lights.
Police advised drivers to be on the lookout for the group of riders.
But Sanchez had a message to the riders: “Don’t fall off your bike.”
Miami Herald staff reporters Douglas Hanks and Noel Gonzalez contributed to this report.